EHR and EMR: Is There Really a Difference?

emr v ehrToday, you are probably seeing more and more doctors use electronic database systems and tablets instead of clipboards and file folders. Nationwide, thirty-nine percent of office-based providers have implemented at least a “basic” electronic health record (EHR) system by 2011.[1]  Specifically, Colorado is at 40%, but overall, this percentage is constantly growing (See Figure 1 below). The terms “electronic medical record” (EMR) and “electronic health record” (EHR) are frequently used interchangeably. Although it may seem like a nit-picky topic, the differentiation between EMR and HER is truly rather significant.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.


EMRs came about first and are “medical”. In other words, they are used my doctors and clinicians for diagnosis and treatment. The National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT) defines electronic medical records (EMR) as: “The electronic record of health-related information on an individual that is created, gathered, managed, and consulted by licensed clinicians and staff from a single organization who are involved in the individual’s health and care.”[2] Long story short, EMRs are an electronic/digital version of traditional medical charts used in doctors’ offices. The transition to digital versions has both its advantages and disadvantages over paper records. The biggest disadvantage, for now, is that the information in EMRs does not export easily for use outside the medical practice. In fact, in order to share information the medical records may have to be printed. Nonetheless, the benefits are greater and some examples include:

  • Easier identification of patients that are due for checkups
  • Track data over longer time periods, including the ability to check how patients are doing on certain parameters
  • Monitor overall quality of care within the office, and make improvements as necessary

EHRs extend beyond the clinic or organization that collects the stats and compiles information. NAHIT defines EHRs as the “aggregate electronic record of health-related information on an individual that is created and gathered cumulatively across more than one health care organization, and is managed and consulted by licensed clinicians and staff involved in the individual’s health and care.”[3] These systems are able to share information with other health care providers. This means that EHRs contain materials from all the clinicians/doctors involved in a patient’s care and medical history, and it can travel with the patient from doctor to doctor, or clinic to clinic. Other advantages to EHRs include:

  • Supports features such as as electronic prescribing (eRx) and lab results
  • Patients themselves have access to their own electronic health records
  • Lab results populate the EHR within one week of tests, which is convenient for analysis and for avoiding duplicate testing
  • Doctor/Clinician notes are available for other practitioners which allows for easier follow-up care and for smooth transitions from one office to another
  • Data and info entered by primary care doctors can tell emergency doctors or other doctors about a patient’s allergies and other special situations

In the end, the difference between electronic medical records and electronic health records is literally just one word, but that one word makes a big difference! EMRs are strictly “medical”. In contrast, EHRs cover more territory. Or, in other words, EHRs go a lot further than EMRs by focusing on the overall health of the patient rather than just standard clinical data.


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[1] The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT
[2] The National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT)
[3] Ibid.


About the Author

avatar About Ashley Peterson

Ashley Peterson is currently a full time MBA student at the University of Denver, Daniels School of Business, studying marketing and sustainability. A Colorado native, in Ashley graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 2010 with a double BA degree in Environmental Studies and Spanish. She returned to Colorado and worked for the Colorado Governor's Energy Office. Vail Resorts lured her away to work in their corporate Environmental Public Affairs department at their Broomfield, Colorado headquarters. This position is where Ashley found her true passion working in the marketing and public affairs side of sustainability and business in general. Ashley is extremely experienced with technology and a vast array of social media platforms and has brought these proficiencies and passions to Prescott Solutions. A former NCAA college athlete, Ashley applies the same characteristics to her professional career that made her a two-time NCAA National Champion (2007 & 2008 Field Hockey): energy, focus, enthusiasm, drive, and team oriented. Ashley's passions extend outside the business world where you can find her cooking, scuba diving, outdoors on a bike, coaching lacrosse or traveling.

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